Are the batsmen at the ICC World Cup that swashbuckling good or is it a false economy in India?
After the Blacks Caps’ Duckworth-Lewis-Stern Method (DLS) loss to Pakistan at Bengaluru, it’s fair to assume the 50-over, white-ball format is in the grips of inflation.
That doesn’t mean the efforts of the century makers — promoted NZ opener Rachin Ravindra (108 from 94 balls, including 15 fours and a six) or Pakistani counterpart Fakhar Zaman (unbeaten 126 from 81 balls, including 8 boundaries and 11 sixes) will depreciate. They just need to be put in perspective despite Ravindra creating history as the first Kiwi to carve up three tons at one edition of the quadrennial event. That the city is his father’s birth home is the icing on the cake.
Neither is it a cheap shot at the DLS Method in the face of a never-ending lament from disgruntled fans, following losses due to inclement weather in the summer sport. The 35th cup match had ended in a 21-run loss to the Caps who had amassed 401 runs.
Although numerical nerds will salivate at the thought of sinking their teeth into statistical sandwiches, the reasons for the loss aren’t that obvious. That’s because many variables dictate the quality of a batsman’s knock or a team’s innings — pedigree of opposition, field dimensions, nature of wicket, etc.
The side boundaries at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium is 55 metres — bearing in mind that the women’s international boundary must not exceed 60m. The venue is the homeground for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, proving a nightmare for IPL bowlers as Sandeep Sharma suggested to The Times of India: “It is hard to bowl at the Chinnaswamy. It is a small ground and the ball generally flies.”
The venue falls in the category of among the most batsmen-friendly wickets in India. That the strip provides steady bounce means the willow whackers can trust their copybook instincts. More importantly, it offers spinners little, if any, purchase.
“Not much seam movement, not much spin,” a TV commentator had summarised a few months ago during the IPL’s 16th season. “With the size of the ground, 200 is a must.”
On such pitch reports, it’s fair to say that Ravindra, Devon Conway and captain Kane Williamson, at first drop, had scored at a sedate rate of a shade more than a run a ball. Having knowledge that inclement weather would have interrupted the 50-over affair well before the toss, why the Caps had left it to the middle-order batsmen to push the strike rate to 160-plus, until the 36th over, is a head-scratcher.
That means 40 overs should alone have yielded 200-plus runs. The Caps were 10 overs shy of another 100 runs. With Pakistan skipper Babar Azam, at first drop, anchoring a sedate run a ball after opener Abdullah Shafique’s four-ball, one-boundary departure, Zaman had had the licence to go ballistic, nudging the 155-plus strike rate past the halfway mark of the innings.
Fans don’t have to be mathematicians to work out that sizzling sixes trump fours — Zaman’s one shy of a dozen into orbit and eight boundaries had eclipsed Ravindra’s solitary six and 15 fours. Zaman may well wax lyrical on how he didn’t rest and had exorcised his offspin demons with his mentors but some variables favour his stellar knock.
Let’s not overlook a subcontinent outfit that packs a battle-hardened mentality built on a template of playing on foreign pitches, after the ICC had imposed a hosting ban on it following the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.
That aside, Pakistan seems to take a shine on Kiwis when push comes to shove — 8-2 in World Cup outings to date. The batting pair’s rapport with the team to keep a finger on the pulse of the required run rate before the first rain interruption endorsed that. Azam didn’t hesitate to have the Black Caps padding up, having won the toss.
Conversely, were the bowlers that bad? The Kiwis had opted for leggie Ish Sodhi while Pakistan added pacer Hasan Ali. That made Sodhi a juicier lamb to the slaughter at a cup where bowlers will be catching practice for fans several rows into the stadia.